Professor who served for Trump sues university for political discrimination
Being tapped by the president to serve in a federal post would normally be viewed as huge career boost, but Whitney Bailey says her year with the Trump administration cost her professionally, and she blames it on politics.
Mrs. Bailey has sued five Oklahoma State University administrators and faculty members, arguing that she was denied a promotion to full professor and deprived of teaching opportunities as a result of her 13 months as a deputy administrator with the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Mrs. Bailey suffered discrimination at a public university that has been intolerant of her political beliefs and affiliations, but more specifically, her public service for the Trump administration,” Geoffrey Tabor, a lawyer with Ward & Glass in Norman, Oklahoma, said in an email.
Oklahoma State denied that political considerations were a factor.
“There is no merit to this lawsuit,” OSU said in a statement. “Partisan politics did not play any role in any decision relative to Dr. Bailey’s teaching position and class schedule.”
An associate professor in OSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Science, Mrs. Bailey took a year of unpaid leave to serve in the administration starting in December 2017, consistent with the university’s policies on faculty leaves of absences.
A few months earlier, she began the process of applying for a full professorship after 13 years at OSU. Despite positive reviews, recommendations and awards, she was rejected on the same day as her departure from the federal post.
“The final decision in this promotion process was rendered to me 47 minutes prior to my leaving to serve in the Trump administration,” she said in an email.
Mrs. Bailey is a Republican, while the provost, dean and three professors in charge of deciding on her promotion were Democrats who made no secret of their dim views of the president, according to the lawsuit.
One professor compared a Trump official to a “fictional movie villain.” Stephan Wilson, dean of the College of Human Sciences, “has a myriad of Facebook posts that readily demonstrate his disdain for President Trump, Republicans, and anyone that aligns with President Trump and his administration,” the complaint said.
Gary Sandefur, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, “has been highly critical of the Trump administration in general, those who voted for President Trump in 2016, and those who appear inclined to vote for President Trump again in 2020,” said the lawsuit.
After Mr. Trump was elected in November 2016, OSU offered counseling to employees “who were having difficulty dealing with Trump’s election as President of the United States.”
OSU declined further comment after The Washington Times reached out to the five university officials named in the lawsuit.
“The individuals named in the petition are employees of Oklahoma State University and the allegations relate to their work for the University,” said the OSU statement. “OSU is obligated to assist with the legal defense of claims made against its employees acting within the course and scope of their employment, and as such will provide legal support for these individuals. Because this is a legal matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Mrs. Bailey has also filed a tort claim against the university, which could be added later to the lawsuit.
“If the tort claim is denied by the university, we will be amending the suit to include the university as a named defendant based on state law legal theories,” Mr. Tabor said.
The lawsuit filed Nov. 18 in Payne County District Court seeks at least $75,000 for economic loss and noneconomic damages, including “humiliation, embarrassment, [and] injury to reputation.”